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Opinion

August 17, 2013

Shribman: Pragmatic vs. ideological

(Continued)

Much of the summer has been consumed with fighting among these GOP factions, the most inflammatory battle being the war of words -- reflecting a war on worldviews -- between Christie and Paul. Christie urged Republicans to abandon what he calls “these esoteric, intellectual debates.” Paul, an especially skilled practitioner of such debates, was critical of Christie’s open hands -- his “gimme” attitude -- on aid from Washington in the wake of last fall’s devastating hurricane.

This dispute can be distilled to whether the GOP should be practical or strictly ideological -- and a Pew Research Center poll underlined how different are the supporters of both men, with 70 percent of tea-partiers viewing Paul favorably but only 47 percent viewing Christie the same way.

There is another important division that soon will come into play: a debate over whether the party’s 2014 House strategy, implicitly encouraging Republicans to play the conservative card in their home districts -- which tend to be homogeneous and right-leaning -- can be applied to the 2016 race. Presidential Republicans worry that such a strategy will undermine the party’s White House hopes.

That’s because the critical elements of the electorate will be different in 2016 than in 2014. The GOP likely will retain possession of the House next year and has a small chance of taking over the Senate, which would cheer Republicans starved for victory after a disappointing political experience last November. Then the Republicans will hold their nomination fight in 2016 among primary voters who will be substantially the same as the 2012 primary electorate.

But that won’t change the national electoral picture, which will be even less white in 2016 than it was in 2012. The Republicans are engaged in a philosophic fight when their real battle is demographic. Right now former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would defeat any of the leading Republican presidential contenders, according to the Marist poll. Her margin is smallest against Christie (six percentage points) and Bush (eight points), with Paul and Rubio falling 12 points behind.

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